a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the rights of workers, except certain civil servants and public employees, to form and join independent unions with some restrictions. Unions must register with the Ministry of Interior, a three-month process, or risk a fine. The law does not establish clear grounds on which registration of a trade union may be denied or approved, and official registration may be denied without the union having recourse to a court. The law provides that a trade union federation must be made up of at least five enterprise-level trade unions in the same sector or branch of activity. Additionally, the law requires that a trade union confederation must be composed of at least three trade union federations of different sectors or branches of activities and that only trade union confederations may have affiliation at a national or international level.
In September 2017 the secretaries-general of six trade union confederations issued a joint statement condemning the arrest and 60-day confinement of Captain Patrice Trekpo, the acting general secretary of the Water, Forests, and Hunting Union of Benin. Trekpo was arrested after decrying poor management and bad working conditions for personnel in Pendjari National Park in a local television appearance. He also criticized a park management contract awarded to South African-based NGO African Parks Network, accusing the NGO of plundering the wildlife resources of Pendjari National Park. The six union leaders considered Trekpo’s arrest and confinement to be a violation of trade union law. The government argued that Trekpo’s status as a member of a paramilitary organization superseded his status as a union leader, the arrest was lawful under legal provisions pertaining to paramilitary organizations, and Trekpo’s statements were tantamount to “incitement to rebellion.” In September 2017 an appeal was filed with the Constitutional Court, asking the court to declare Trekpo’s arrest and confinement unconstitutional. In December 2017 the minister of environment and sustainable development dismissed Trekpo. On February 20, in response to the appeal, the Constitutional Court declared that the case was outside its jurisdiction.
The law provides for the rights of workers to bargain collectively. By law collective bargaining agreements are negotiated within a joint committee including representatives of one or several unions and or representatives of one or several employers’ associations. A labor inspector, a secretary, and one or two rapporteurs preside over the committee. The minister of labor and civil service has the authority to determine which trade unions may be represented in the negotiation at the enterprise level. The minister has the power to extend the scope of coverage of a collective agreement. The law imposes compulsory conciliation and binding arbitration in the event of disputes during collective bargaining in all sectors, “nonessential service” sectors included. The National Permanent Commission for Consultation and Collective Bargaining, and the Social Sector-based Dialogue Committee were active in each ministry to foster dialogue between the government and unions. On May 11 and September 13 respectively, the commission held two ordinary sessions.
In 2016 the government, the National Employers’ Association, and six union confederations signed a “National Charter of Social Dialogue” including several measures to be undertaken by the parties to enhance dialogue while fostering democracy and good governance in a climate of social accord and national unity. In June 2017 the government approved two decrees to establish a National Social Dialogue Council and to appoint its members. The council is intended to replace the National Permanent Commission for Consultation and Collective Bargaining.
The law provides for the right to strike, but prior notification must be provided. The merchant marine code grants seafarers the right to organize but not the right to strike. A trade union considering a strike should notify, in writing, the leadership of the concerned entity and the minister of labor and civil service at least three days before the start of the strike. The notification letter should mention the reasons for the strike; the location, date, and start time of the strike; and the expected duration of the strike. Authorities do not formally grant permission to strike, but strikes that fail to comply with these requirements are deemed illegal.
The law provides that civil servants, public- and private-entity workers, and parastatal employees who provide essential services to maintain minimum services during strikes. The law provides for a discretionary determination of “essential services” and defines them as services pertaining to health care, security, energy, water, air transport, and telecommunication. Authorities may declare strikes illegal for reasons such as threatening social peace and order and may requisition striking workers to maintain minimum services. The government may prohibit any strike on the grounds it threatens the economy or the national interest. Laws prohibit employer retaliation against strikers, except that a company may withhold part of a worker’s pay following a strike.
On September 4, the National Assembly passed Act No 2018-35 Amending and Supplementing Act No 2001-09 of 2002 related to the right to strike; in October the president implemented the law. The law restricts the maximum duration of a strike to 10 days per year for all civil servants, local government personnel, public- and private-sector workers, and parastatal employees, except workers who are barred from striking. By law health-sector staff and military and paramilitary personnel–including police, customs, and water, forest and hunting officers–are barred from striking. Minimum service is required for workers that carry out essential responsibilities such as judges, prison and justice system personnel, and staff of the sectors of energy, water, maritime and air transport, financial administration, and telecommunication, with the exception of private radio and television broadcasters. Another provision provides that strikes motivated by the violation of fundamental rights and universally recognized union rights may not prompt salary deductions.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Employers may not take union membership or activity into account in hiring, work distribution, professional or vocational training, or dismissal. In addition to certain civil servants and public employees, domestic workers, agricultural workers, migrant workers, and those in export processing zones are excluded from relevant legal protections.
Workers discussed labor-related issues with employers through the National Consultation and Collective Bargaining Commission. The commission held sessions and met with the government to discuss workers’ claims and propose solutions. Information regarding whether or not remedies and penalties had deterrent effects was not available.
The government generally respected the right to form and join independent unions and the right to collective bargaining. With the exception of merchant shipping employees, workers exercised their right to strike. Civil servants went on strike throughout the year. The government did not effectively enforce the law, particularly in the informal sector and with regard to the provisions on antiunion discrimination and reinstatement. There were reports that employers threatened individuals with dismissal for union activity. No violations related to collective bargaining rights were reported.
On January 4, the National Assembly passed legislation abolishing the right to strike for workers in the health, security, and justice sectors. The move triggered a general strike by the National Union of Magistrates, paralyzing the administration of justice. On January 18, the Constitutional Court struck down these provisions stating that the right to strike is a constitutional right that should be protected. The court in its decision urged the National Assembly to regulate the right to strike instead of banning it. On June 28, the Constitutional Court reversed the previous court ruling on the right to strike for government workers in the defense, justice, security, and health sectors, giving as justification the greater societal good of providing that essential state functions are performed without interruption.